This is Shawna's Story.
I have been a Cam’s Kids ambassador/executive for a few years now and have debated whether I wanted to share my story with so many people. After reading so many other stories, I have concluded that it would be worth sharing if my story could help just one person.
I can’t think of a time in my life when I didn’t know this uncomfortable and terrible feeling of anxiety. Even thinking back to when I was a young kid, I remember there being many times when I would become so overwhelmed with this intense indescribable feeling that eventually led to unreasoned crying episodes. As a kid, I was also so confused about why I was always crying, and I told myself that I was just a ‘crybaby,’ which I later learned was not the case. I went through my early years accepting this title and would tell myself that I am just an emotional person and I need to ‘suck it up’ because I am too old to be crying as a way to cope with my emotions.
It was not until high school that I learned what anxiety was and finally could attach a word to everything I had been feeling for so many years. Soon after this realization, I was able to have a conversation with a medical professional and was put on my first round of medication to help alleviate the symptoms that I was experiencing. After finally receiving a proper diagnosis and a medical treatment plan, I was very hopeful that I would be able to live a normal life. In addition, I was very hopeful for my University journey.
I continued taking my medication for years, and it was not until COVID hit that I found my mental health experiencing a decline for the first time since my diagnosis. I felt like I was moving backward instead of forward with my mental health, and I was not quite sure how to handle this.
Everyone was genuinely affected by the pandemic, and for someone already experiencing mental health issues, being isolated from the world did not have a positive effect.
Many of us could not attend in-person classes or any in-person events, which was my main source for meeting new people and forming new friendships.
I somehow managed to get through this period of life by doing things that I found joy in. For example, after being stuck inside all day doing schoolwork, I would find time to go for a walk outside. I find even to this day, I still carry this habit. The pandemic gave me time to try and find things I enjoy doing, specifically activities I can do by myself.
A part of my mental health that I still struggle with is accepting that mental health is just as important as physical health. If you are struggling, you should not feel ashamed to seek support. I also never wanted to access support services because I worried I would be taking that opportunity away from someone who really needed it. Even though deep down, I knew I really needed help. In addition, I do not like to talk about my mental health with others because I could never find someone who understood or related to what I was going through.
This past November was the worst month of my life. I experience such a decline in every aspect of my life, especially my mental health. On top of this, I am in my fourth year of university, so the pressure of school and life was not helping.
Every day I had panic attacks that felt like they were never-ending. I was uncontrollably crying and would hide in my room because I did not want the people I lived with to see what a mess I was.
On top of this, I wasn’t sleeping; I would be up all night doing random tasks that ranged from school to housework because I was trying everything to distract my brain from this extreme feeling of anxiety. But it never stopped. I couldn’t get the feeling to go away, and I truly felt like I was going crazy. I had never felt my anxiety get to this level, so I didn't know how to handle my feelings, who to go to for help, or if there was even anything anyone could do to help.
Anxiety is a very isolating mental illness. I felt so alone and misunderstood because no one could relate to what I was experiencing. People would ask me what was wrong, and I honestly did not know how to answer that question because there wasn't anything that was bothering me. I started to worry that my feelings would lead to actions that could hurt the people around me. So that is when I decided to completely isolate myself from my friends and others.
This was when I realized that I wasn't just experiencing anxiety; I was going into depression. I spent countless nights hysterically crying alone in my room. Every day felt like a panic attack that would never leave, and every part of my body felt like my brain had taken over and I had no control.
I felt so alone and had many suicidal thoughts that if I were to end my life, this feeling would go away.
During the day, I was struggling to cope even more. I was barely getting to work or my classes, but at the same time, I knew that I needed something to distract my mind.
When I didn't have class or work, I would go on long walks around the neighbourhood for hours at a time. This was the only way I could temporality stop the agitation and restlessness of my body.
I wasn’t eating because I felt so anxious that I wasn’t able to stomach any food, and because of this, I ended up experiencing extreme physical symptoms such as weight loss and even fainting.
I knew it had gotten really bad when I was on one of my walks for over an hour after not eating for days, and I ended up passing out on the side of the road. I knew at this moment that I couldn’t keep living this way; no one could possibly live this way. So I decided the next day I would go to the university and reach out for support through their student services.
I didn’t sleep at all that night and was constantly crying, and all I wanted to do was talk to someone.
So I walked into the student services that morning, and before I even got any words out, I just stood there in the doorway and started crying. Thankfully because of how amazing their services are here, I was able to speak to someone that day, and starting then, I was able to be supported through the services the school had to offer.
I left that day feeling relieved that I was finally going to get the help that I needed and had hope that things were going to get better.
Over the winter break, I went back to my doctor and ended up getting a change in medication after being on the same one for over eight years.
Any new medication, especially serotonin enhancers, can be extremely scary to take, especially when switching to a new one after being on the same one for so long. In addition, sometimes people experience shame when they have to take medication to make them feel “normal.” However, like I said before, if you needed to take medication to help your physical health, you would, so why should medication for your mental health be less important?
Since the change in medication, I have noticed a huge difference in my mental health. I am able to sleep at night, which is the best start to a successful day. In addition, I spent my winter break focusing on reaching out to different support services to work on creating a plan that I will use to maintain my mental health. There are three things that I have found that worked well for me that I hope might work for other people! Again everyone is different, and finding ways to maintain good mental health might take time. So try and be patient because I promise you will get there! With that being said, here are the three things I have implemented into my daily life!
I still have bad days now and then, but I have learned many ways to cope with these feelings and how to prevent them. I surround myself with people who are supportive of who I am and understand my struggles with mental health. Although accepting that I will always live with anxiety and depression has been hard, but it's what makes me who I am! Without these experiences, I would never have become the strong independent person that I am today! This is a battle that more people need to be proud of fighting! If you are scared that things won't get better, just know that I promise you are not alone! I know it might feel this way, but this is only a temporary feeling! Things will get better! There are endless resources that are available to support you, so please don’t feel ashamed about using them because that is why they are there! Together we can and will help one another get through this!